I just returned from this event hosted by Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles (our sister church) and hosted by Christians on Social Issues. I thought it would be helpful for me to attend this, to hear about the issue more and to see how their church would respond. The first half of the “conversation” featured a Christian Asian-American man who is gay, Gary Hayashi, along with his (married) straight female friend, Marian Sunabe. Pastor Ken Fong of Evergreen LA facilitated the discussion. The stage was set up to look like a comfortable living room, and the participants sat on couches around a coffee table. Gary spoke much about his experience as an Asian-American Christian in the church as he “came out”. Marian was a friend who reached out to Gary, caring for him. This event came about because of her simple love for her friend.
The second half of the event featured a video about an Asian-American woman who is a lesbian and her parents as they have journeyed through the situation, as well as a Japanese-American pastor who is teaching his congregation to accept and celebrate the differences of individuals within the gay and lesbian community.
The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Kamiya, joined Pastor Ken, Gary, and Marian on the stage at the end, answering selected questions from the audience.
I am very glad I went to this event, though I have some mixed feelings. I am definitely more educated and less ignorant about the experiences of those who are gay and lesbian, especially those in the Asian-American church. Some of my reactions:
- We need to love as Jesus loves.
Gary said, “Look in the gospels. (Over and over again) He stays in compassionate interaction with someone that people won’t even talk to. As long as someone is continually interacting, I don’t have anything against it.”
Pastor Ken talked about how we need to be accepting of people. So often people just choose sides and that’s why we fight wars. Will we simply just sit down and even interact with others who are living in a way that is contrary to our belief system? It was Marian’s reaching out to Gary that helped him be more willing to share at this event.
- We need to stop being in denial.
Gary reminded us that (those in the GLBT community) are sitting with us in the pews. They are our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. They are in church leadership, in the choir, at our schools and workplaces. Can we at least see that there are human beings involved?
- Let’s make sure our terminology is clear.
Pastor Ken talked about being accepting and affirming. So did Marian. But I wonder if their definition of “affirming” is the same. Is “affirming” about one’s identity in Christ, or about condoning lifestyle? Marian said that we “need to affirm someone as God created him or her to be.” I wonder if that’s inclusive of a lifestyle that the evangelical church does not condone. After all, many of those who are gay and lesbian would agree that they have their identities wrapped up in these adjectives. To them, there may not be a separation between who they are and what they do—which many evangelical Christians have tried to separate in order to try to reconcile to others a God who is both firm on an issue and loving at the same time.
On a related note, Gary stated emotionally that “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is one of the most offensive things he hears. He takes it to mean that the person goes out of their way to tell him that their theology is still rock solid, and puts theology above a person. “(that statement) is all about you.” Whether that is the person’s intention or not (it is not mine if I say it), it is how it makes him feel, and I realize that I need to be sensitive to how things can sound.
- Let’s be consistent.
Pastor Ken said that we need to realize that many of the standards the evangelical church holds to people who are gay are tougher than the standards we keep amongst ourselves. Often the church accuses homosexuals as being promiscuous, not holding to family values. But what about the straight people in our congregation who are fornicating, or in adulterous or incestuous relations? “We do need to raise the bar on standards, and realize that not many (in our church) meet it,” Pastor Ken said. We are hypocrites if we have a double standard.
- Love speaks louder than words.
No matter what theology we teach, it is love that truly makes the difference.
I was very disappointed that the handouts, as well as the video, presented principles that were absolutely unbiblical. One stance was especially alarming. The handout, put out by the Asian Pacific Islander Pride Council (and not Evergreen LA) states “In the Bible, Jesus condemned divorce, but said not a single word about homosexuality.” The pastor in the video claimed that the only explicit teaching against homosexuality was in Leviticus, and that command is obsolete. The first statement is a logical fallacy: argument from silence. But (as my girlfriend points out), Christ is the Word, and the entire Word includes much more teaching about God’s view on homosexuality than just the Leviticus verse (Genesis 19, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).
Having said that, I realize that no matter what our stance on the issue is, our response needs to be in love. The pastor in the video does affirm homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, but it is his acceptance and love of the individuals, not his teaching, that ministers to them the most. So there are people who are homosexual who attend his church. Likewise, many non-Christians who say they have no problem with homosexuality often do not create a loving environment for them with distance or ignorance. All this to say: love and acceptance speaks louder than words and stances.
Overall, there were many times during the event that convicted me, and many other times that made me cringe in disagreement. I would have liked to hear Pastor Ken make a stance and give Christians some solid advice on how to act towards homosexuals, but he did not tonight. I would have liked to have more question and answer time about how we as a church could handle it. But perhaps this was not the right time for it. I am glad that we did start a conversation. I hope we will start to find more common ground. We need to trust that God will convict His people, those who are homosexual and those in the evangelical church alike, towards His will on how we should handle this.